How To Talk With Teens About Healthy Relationships by Kaiser Permanente
Teen Dating: Tips for a Healthy Relationship
Three of four teens are dating by ninth grade, and most of these relationships are fun and healthy. But for one in four teens, dating involves verbal, emotional, or physical abuse, and for 1 in 10, violence. Dating advice can keep you safe, from your first boyfriend to your last.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Figuring out if you're in a healthy relationship is complicated. Sometimes it's easier to know when teen dating is going wrong than when it is going right.
"We know an unhealthy relationship when we see one, so the opposite is a healthy one," explains parenting expert Judith Herrman, PhD, RN, an associate professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Delaware. "A healthy relationship is when there is an equal power relationship and it's loving, trusting, and respectful. When there are threats, there tends to be an imbalance -; whether it's power, trust, or respect."
There are some factors that may point toward an increased risk for violence in a relationship, but Herrman emphasizes that the dating advice of "trusting your gut" is ultimately the key to your safety. If you feel uncomfortable or threatened, get out of the situation immediately. If you are already the victim of violence, seek help from an adult you trust.
Teen Dating and Abuse
Why do some partners turn abusive and even violent? Here are some of the factors that increase the risk of teen dating violence:
- Generally being more aggressive
- Believing that violence is acceptable
- A history of witnessing violence
- Strong belief in gender roles
- Difficulty managing conflict
- Difficulty controlling anger
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Hanging out with other people who are violent or abusive
The problem, Herrman says, is that girls can see all the red flags, read a ton of dating advice, and even know in their gut that something is wrong in their relationship, but still have a hard time walking away.
"Sometimes these relationships fill such huge holes in self-esteem that you have to find ways to bolster girl's self-esteem that are not relationship oriented," Herrman says. Building self-esteem involves becoming more comfortable with yourself, valuing your accomplishments, and having hope in the future. Parents, teachers, and other adults can all help you build self-esteem, but you and your friends can do it, too.
Building a Healthy Relationship
Even as you're diving into a relationship with your first boyfriend, or second, or 10th, remember that it's also important to build your self-esteem (which is essential to a healthy relationship) and build relationships other than your teen dating relationship. Here are some ideas:
- Find a mentor.Herrman, who often works with girls who are in the juvenile justice system, says that one thing they all have in common is being unable to identify any single person who inspired them. Build connections with your teachers, group leaders, coaches, and other adults. Boys & Girls Club, Girl Scouts, and Big Brother/Big Sister programs are great resources, she says.
- Take a drive.For whatever reason, driving somewhere in the car together often seems to open the channels of conversations between parents and children. So for once, let your Dad drive you to the mall and actually talk to him about your relationship, especially if you have concerns. (A note to parents: Herrman acknowledges that we're all busy and sometimes girls want to talk just at the moment you want to put your feet up and relax, but it's important to be available on your kids' time.)
- Write "pocket statements."It can be tough to say exactly what you need to say when your first boyfriend or firstsignificantboyfriend is putting you on the spot, threatening you, or pressuring you for sex. Practice setting the boundaries you need to feel comfortable. "You have to know yourself," Herrman says. "If you know you're ready for sex but not without a condom, it can help to practice saying exactly that, so you don't act ambivalent."
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.Substance abuse can put you at risk for violence and make it even harder to create a healthy relationship or end an unhealthy one.
- Stay involved.It can be tempting to stop hanging out with your friends or give up on hobbies or activities in order to spend time with your new boyfriend. Romantic emotions are pretty powerful, but it's important to stay involved with the relationships and activities that mattered to you before you started dating. Following your passions will keep your self-esteem up, make you more interesting to your boyfriend, and also give you a soft place to land if your relationship doesn't work out.
- Don't meet Internet "friends." Herrman says an alarming number of teens physically meet up with people they have only met online. Be careful with Internet "friends," she warns. If you really have to meet them, plan the first meeting in a group and in a public place.
- Be careful with social media.Be careful with your reputation. In the world of smartphones and sexting, it can be far too easy for something you share with your boyfriend (like a revealing photograph) to become public viewing later on.
"Adolescence is characterized by less of an ability to understand consequences," Herrman says. But with a little education and some role-playing, you should be able to explore the complex world of teen dating, have fun with someone you care about, and stay safe at the same time.
Video: Dr. Paula Cody - Teens and Healthy Relationships
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